Bioethics Blogs

Repurposing an “Old” Drug for Alzheimer’s Disease

Caption: Here I am with Senator Barbara Mikulski (center) and NCATS Director Chris Austin (right). Credit: NIH

Alzheimer’s disease research is among the many areas of biomedical science that Senator Barbara Mikulski has championed during her nearly 40 years on Capitol Hill. And it’s easy to understand why the Senator is concerned: an estimated 5 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, and those numbers are expected to rise exponentially as the U.S. population continues to age.

So, I was thrilled to have some encouraging progress to report last week when Senator Mikulski (D-MD) paid a visit to NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) in Gaithersburg, MD. After a whirlwind tour of the cutting-edge robotics facility for high throughput screening of small molecules, she joined me and NCATS Director Dr. Chris Austin in announcing that, thanks to an innovative public-private partnership, an experimental drug originally developed to fight cancer is now showing promise against Alzheimer’s disease.

The compound, called saracatinib, is particularly exciting because it acts through a different mechanism than other experimental therapies now being tested for Alzheimer’s disease. The biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has agreed to supply the drug for the trials, first developed the compound to target a family of enzymes called src kinases, which are involved in the spread of cancer. Although the oral drug proved safe in human clinical trials, its performance was not impressive against cancer. So, the company shelved saracatinib, setting aside plans for further development.

That’s where the drug might have stayed had it not been for a basic research discovery made by a team led by Stephen Strittmatter of Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.